The complex ecosystem of bacteria (also referred to as “microflora” or just “flora”) that lives in your intestinal tract is called the gut microbiota (or your microbiome). You're not born with this bacterial ecosystem; it begins to develop after birth and becomes more sophisticated as different foods are introduced in the diet. Your gut bacteria are a dynamic part of your digestive system. When your diet and health change, so do the composition of your gut flora.
GOOD GUT BACTERIA VS. BAD GUT BACTERIA
You have about ten times the number of gut bacteria in your intestinal tract as you do cells in your entire body (about 100 trillion bacteria cells total). While most of these bacteria are not harmful (some are actually beneficial and important for normal growth and development) some can cause disease. Under normal circumstances, the "good" bacteria far outnumber the "bad", but any shift in the balance of "good” to "bad" bacteria, may affect how well your digestive tract functions. Several factors can influence the shift in gut flora such as stress, antibiotics, illness, aging, and diet.
THE GUT-BRAIN CONNECTION
The health of your gut flora and its effect on your mental and physical well-being—referred to as the gut-brain axis—is the subject of ongoing research. While there is much to learn on this topic, recent research shows there are links between your digestive system, mood, health, and even the way we think. (http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection).
Research suggests that, when the gut flora is out of balance (not enough friendly bacteria), it may negatively affect your overall health and influence your mood. Made up of over 100 million neurons, the digestive system has its own nervous system. In fact, it’s even referred to as the “second brain.” So, what you feel in your gut is often connected to what you feel in your brain. A perfect example is the feeling of “butterflies” in your stomach. This connection supports the findings that digestive discomfort may impair both physical and psychological well-being and the ability to be at your best potential. In other words, when your gut feels good, so do you.
PROBIOTICS MAY HELP
Adding probiotics to your daily routine can help maintain the gut flora balance needed for overall digestive health. And balancing your digestive health may have a positive impact on how you think and feel.